TUE AM News: January home sales down 4.2 percent over the year; Long-term care not seeing ‘devastating impact’ expected from staff COVID vaccine mandate

— Monthly home sales in January declined 4.2 percent over the year, according to the latest report from the Wisconsin Realtors Association. 

A total of 4,578 homes were sold last month in Wisconsin, compared to 4,777 in January 2021, the report shows. 

While the state failed to exceed last January’s record sales numbers, WRA says January 2022 still saw the second-strongest sales for the month since the group benchmarked its data analysis in 2005. Report authors say housing demand remains strong even as home prices continue to increase. 

The state’s median home price jumped 10 percent from $210,000 to $231,000 over the year, WRA reports. At the same time, statewide listings have fallen 14.6 percent, from 16,765 in January 2021 to 14,324 last month. 

Meanwhile, inventory levels dropped 13.6 percent over the same period, from 2.2 months of inventory to 1.9 months. WRA’s report shows the tight inventory levels “continued to constrain” the state’s housing market. 

“With housing demand so strong and inventory so tight, this is the strongest seller’s market in years,” WRA Board of Directors Chairman Brad Lois said in a statement. “With such limited supply, this is a great time to list your home.”

While sales fell statewide, the report notes the decline was greater in less urban parts of Wisconsin. Home sales fell 14.9 percent over the year in the north region, 15.3 percent in the central region, 5.5 percent in the south central region and 2.9 percent in the southeast region. Sales increased 0.7 percent in the northeast region and 4.3 percent in the state’s west region. 

Also in the report, Marquette University Economist Dave Clark notes annual inflation rates continue to increase, reaching 7.5 percent in January. He explains ongoing supply chain troubles and the labor shortage, along with high energy prices, have the Federal Reserve “on alert.” 

“To keep the economy from further overheating, the Fed is likely to begin raising short-term interest rates more aggressively than was suggested in its December meeting,” he said. “Containing inflationary expectations is the best way to keep mortgage rates from rising more quickly.” 

See the full report: https://www.wisbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/220221realestate.pdf 

— Several weeks after a nursing home staff vaccination mandate took effect in Wisconsin, facilities are not seeing the “devastating impact” industry leaders had expected. 

That’s according to Rick Abrams, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living. In recent months, he had warned the COVID-19 vaccination mandate could drive staff away from the field, which is already facing a significant worker shortage. 

But in an interview yesterday, he said the deadline set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services seems to have pushed many who were on the fence to get vaccinated. 

“Have people left the employ of the long-term care facilities because of the mandate? Absolutely. But not in the numbers that we had anticipated, which certainly is a very, very favorable thing,” Abrams told WisBusiness.com. 

He also pointed to medical exemptions, deferrals or belief-based exemptions as helpful in avoiding a mass exodus of workers. He noted staff members who qualify for exemptions are still taking additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“Look, we certainly hope that everyone would get vaccinated, but it is their choice, and if they choose for whatever reason not to get vaccinated, the precautions to ensure their safety, the residents’ safety, and their staff colleagues’ safety are being taken by our facilities,” he said. 

The CDC nursing home dashboard shows 88.7 percent of residents at reporting facilities in the state were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Feb. 13, the latest day for which numbers are available. And 78.8 percent of fully vaccinated residents at these facilities had received a booster dose by that time. 

Meanwhile, the vaccination rate for nursing home staff was 83.9 percent, and 41.3 percent had received a booster shot. Abrams acknowledged the state is lagging somewhat on booster shots for staff, but noted progress is being made. 

He said the Department of Health Services’ Division of Quality Assurance has only issued four citations among 51 surveyed facilities since the first-dose mandate took effect Jan. 27. He said the issues identified weren’t serious, and were mostly related to facility policies and procedures — “so that’s also a very, very good result.” 

Abrams explained facilities with at least 80 percent of their staff vaccinated had to have a plan in place by Jan. 27 to reach 100 percent vaccination against COVID-19. By the next deadline of Feb. 28, facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid must reach 90 percent vaccination and have a plan to reach full coverage, he said. 

Since the policy was announced by federal officials over the summer, Abrams said he and LeadingAge Wisconsin President John Sauer have been telling member facilities to prepare for the mandate. Some states have sued to challenge the rule, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed it to proceed, according to a fact sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

“Always assume that this is going to take effect, and that preparation, I think, has really paid off for the benefit of our residents and all the staff at those facilities,” Abrams said. 

See the CDC dashboard here: https://www.cdc.gov/nhsn/covid19/ltc-vaccination-dashboard.html 

— Gov. Tony Evers has issued an executive order creating the Blue Ribbon Commission on Veteran Opportunity, which he touted last week during his State of the State address. 

The commission will seek to address challenges facing the state’s more than 300,000 veterans, such as economic and housing insecurity, mental and behavioral health issues, substance use disorders and other hurdles. 

According to a release from the guv’s office, the commission will collaborate with other groups to identify gaps in existing services for the state’s veteran community. It will offer recommendations to Evers, which he says he would include in his next budget proposal if he’s reelected in the fall. 

The order was signed yesterday at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls. 

See the executive order: https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/WIGOV/2022/02/17/file_attachments/2080311/EO157-BRC%20Veterans.pdf 

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/gov-evers-signs-executive-order-creating-blue-ribbon-commission-on-veteran-opportunity/ 

— Workers at a Starbucks location in Plover are seeking to unionize, the Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United announced. 

A release from the labor group shows “an overwhelming majority of workers” at the store signed union authorization cards and are demanding recognition from the international coffee chain. This is the second location in the state where Starbucks employees have filed for union elections, after workers at an Oak Creek location did so earlier this month. 

The move comes as Starbucks workers at other locations in the Midwest and across the country are moving to unionize. 

The Plover workers wrote in a recent letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson that the company has not been meeting their expectations for employment. The release shows the letter was signed by a majority of the store’s workers and emailed to Johnson on Friday. 

“We expect a work-life balance that allows us to enjoy life without worrying about basic human necessities like housing, transportation, health care, and food,” they wrote. “We expect to be compensated fairly for the work we do, as workplace demands increase significantly each year. Simply put, our expectations are not being met.”  

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/cmrjb-workers-united-plover-starbucks-workers-demand-union-recognition/ 

— The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance says over 10,000 financial filings have been processed through an updated digital system. 

After the agency launched its Continuous Process Improvement Initiative in 2019, its Financial Filing Portal was created to cut down on the time needed to process these filings. Amy Malm, administrator for OCI’s Division of Financial Regulation, says it used to take two employees at least two weeks to get filings to technical staff for review during the busiest times. Automating the process has reduced that time, making filings available to the public sooner. 

Commissioner Nathan Houdek says the 10,000 processed filings are from more than 230 insurers each submitting more than 20 different files through the digital platform. He says the improvements have “made these filings easier for the industry to submit and more efficient for us to review.” 

See the release: https://oci.wi.gov/Pages/PressReleases/20220221FinancialFilings.aspx 

Listen to a recent podcast interview with Houdek: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2022/wisbusiness-the-podcast-with-nathan-houdek-commissioner-of-insurance-for-wisconsin/ 

— DATCP will be accepting applications for export expansion grants until March 18, the agency recently announced.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee recently released funds for this year’s round of grants being provided through the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports. The effort aims to increase exports of dairy, meat and crop products made in the state. 

Applicants can include nonprofits in the state that work with agricultural businesses, as well as agribusiness associations, technical colleges, universities and economic development entities. Grants will range from $25,000 to $50,000 over up to two years, and recipients can request an additional year of funding. Selected projects will begin in May. 

Matching funds are required for 20 percent of the grant award, according to a release from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Funding can be used for things like event promotion, trade promotion, marketing materials, advertising, subscriptions, contractor fees and translation services. 

See application details: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Growing_WI/WisconsinInitiativeForAgriculturalExports.aspx 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2022/dept-of-agriculture-trade-and-consumer-protection-accepting-applications-for-export-expansion-grants-through-march-18/ 

— The economic development group New North is offering a free project management training program for residents of northeastern Wisconsin. 

Partners in the effort include Microsoft and gener8tor Skills Accelerator program. The virtual training program will run from March 7 to April 15. Career coaches will work with participants during the six-week program, and those that complete it will have access to a network of potential employers. 

“Anyone who is struggling to find a job, or who works part-time and is having a hard time making ends meet, is an ideal candidate,” said Barb LaMue, president and CEO of New North. “We are asking all of our partners in the region to refer anyone they believe would be a good fit for this opportunity.” 

See more details: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2022/new-north-applications-close-march-1-for-free-skills-training-in-project-management/ 

— Lawmakers last week circulated 29 bills for co-sponsorship, including one that would add an automatic trigger to reduce the rates for each of the state’s four tax brackets anytime collections came in higher than expected.

Under the bill, the Department of Revenue would have to reduce each bracket by the excess amount collected in the previous year.

See the Association of Wisconsin Lobbyists’ summary of last week’s bills circulated, including links to the co-sponsorship memos:



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– Wisconsin students celebrating National FFA Week


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– Leaders of high-performing Milwaukee schools say funding is biggest impediment to adding seats


– Northern Wisconsin expecting 12 to 24 inches of snow Monday and Tuesday


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– HSA Commercial readies more industrial buildings along I-94 corridor


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– Commentary: USPS vehicle work would benefit state


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

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